Second Annual MLK Convocation Asks “Where Do We Go from Here?”

January 23, 2017

Fifty years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published his book Where Do We Go From Here, he tackled issues of racial and economic justice.

In an MLK Convocation held Jan. 18 at the Law School, Dean Garry Jenkins, Judge Michael Davis (’72), and Judge Nicole Starr (’03), tackled the same topic, but altered the subtitle from King’s “Chaos or Community?” to one probing the topic “Law and Leadership in a Fractured Era.” The convocation was sponsored by the Law School Diversity Committee.

Jenkins began the discussion by noting that systemic and implicit bias continue to exist in the United States, as do racial inequities in the criminal justice system. He then asked the panelists to address the topic of law and leadership.

Davis, a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, urged students to think of themselves as leaders today, and not wait until graduation. “You are leaders,” he said. “You don’t need me here. I have passed the torch to you.”

Added Davis, “People will look at you as a leader because you have a law degree…. Keep that fire you have that got you to law school.”

Starr, appointed in 2014 to a judgeship in Minnesota’s 2nd Judicial District (Ramsey County), told those in attendance to work with others in advocating for change. “None of us are truly excellent, but we can be excellent together,” she said.

Starr pointed to the Oxford Dictionaries’ declaration of post-truth as the 2016 “word of the year” as evidence of the need for attorneys—and law students—to jump into the public fray.

“You are among the most highly educated people in society,” she said. “You have a civic obligation to bring truth and knowledge into every discussion. You are uniquely situated.”

Both Starr and Davis addressed the inherent friction between chaos and community, echoing King’s 1967 book. Starr said societal divisiveness prompts people to seek answers.

“It is the chaos that makes people think, ‘What do we have in common?’” she said. Then Starr answered her own question, noting, “Our commitment to the core goals of the United States and our core constitutional truths has carried us through… and brought us together time and time again.”

For his part, Davis noted that chaos isn’t necessarily a pejorative. “Without chaos, we don’t have progress,” Davis said. “That’s what brings about change.”

Individuals, he added, can play an important part in altering the course of history. He cited the example of civil rights attorney and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, calling him the greatest lawyer of the 20th century.

Said Davis, “He changed the country.”

Judge Nicole J. Starr (’03), Dean Garry W. Jenkins, Judge Michael J. Davis (’72)
Judge Nicole J. Starr (’03), Dean Garry W. Jenkins, Judge Michael J. Davis (’72)

Diversity Committee Feedback

The Law School community is invited to continue considering “Where Do We Go From Here” by proposing programs or providing feedback through the Diversity Committee’s Feedback Form.

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